Multi-Lateral Summaries > United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is one of five regional commissions of the United Nations. It was established in 1947 by the UN Economic and Social Council. The overarching mandate of the UNECE is to facilitate greater economic integration and cooperation among its fifty-six Member States and promote sustainable development and economic prosperity. The UNECE’s area of expertise covers the following sectors: environment; transport; statistics; sustainable energy; economic cooperation and integration; trade; timber and forestry; and housing, land management and population. The UNECE programme of work is focused on (i) the negotiation of conventions, norms, standards, and guidelines in the above-mentioned sectoral areas; (ii) the provision of technical assistance (advisory services, capacity building workshops, training courses, and study tours) to countries with economies in transition, aimed at building national capacity to implement UNECE legally binding instruments and standards, and supporting these countries in the achievement of internationally-agreed development goals; (iii) the organization of policy debate, and the exchange of experience and best practices in the key areas of UNECE work; and (iv) the monitoring of and provision of support to the regional implementation of the outcomes of global UN conferences and summits.

TCB-related programme

The UNECE TCB-related work is implemented under the following subprogrammes: Trade, Economic Cooperation and Integration (promotion of knowledge-based development), and Transport. While the main beneficiaries of technical cooperation activities are countries with economies in transition in South-Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, the UNECE international standards, recommendations and legal instruments are increasingly applied by countries outside the UNECE region.

Subprogramme on Trade

In trade, capacity building activities are focussed on assisting UNECE member states to address behind-the-border and at-the-border non-tariff regulatory and procedural barriers to trade in goods and are guided by the following principles:

  • Linkage to UNECE’s normative work - improving the capacity of governments to implement UNECE legal instruments, norms, standards, and recommendations; UNECE regional advisers play a key role in this area;
  • Selectivity - focusing on areas where the UNECE has recognized expertise, and ensuring an optimal use of limited resources;
  • Results-oriented: activities are tailored to address specific capacity shortfalls and involve the delivery of well defined, measurable outputs;
  • Demand-driven: activities are launched upon the request of member states, and are designed in consultation with stakeholders to ensure national ownership and the sustainability of capacity building efforts beyond the international funding cycle;
  • Cooperation and partnership with others, including the private sector and the academic community.

The main goals of UNECE capacity building activities in the field of trade are:

  • Assisting Member States with economies in transition in the implementation of UNECE legal instruments,regulations and norms, specifically in the areas of agricultural quality standards, electronic business,regulatory cooperation, standardization policy, and trade facilitation;
  • Supporting subregional and regional integration networks in the areas of agricultural quality standards,electronic business, regulatory cooperation, standardization policy, and trade facilitation;
  • Helping economies in transition to elaborate and implement technical assistance programmes/projects,focusing on those related to resolving trans-boundary problems;
  • Assisting economies in transition in their efforts to develop the required capacity for achieving regional and internationally-agreed development goals.
  • Supporting national and subregional Aid for Trade processes.

Agricultural quality standards

Compliance with international commercial quality standards in agriculture is a prerequisite for agricultural production to be integrated into international markets. Many developing and transition economies, however, lack the required capital, technology and human resources. This places these countries at a competitive disadvantage.

Improving the implementation and enforcement of agricultural quality standards would facilitate agricultural exports, and contribute to a rise in average incomes, especially in rural areas.

Regulatory cooperation on norms and standardization policies

Differences between national regulatory regimes, and between national and international standards, may constitute a barrier to exports, especially for small companies that operate in developing and transition economies. To resolve these difficulties, countries may need assistance with:

  • Coordinating national regulatory and standardization policies;
  • Launching bi-lateral, regional or multilateral dialogues, with a view to harmonizing the regulatory requirements for products/services in the countries concerned;
  • Designing and implementing national conformity assessment schemes that are as unrestrictive to trade as possible, while also ensuring a necessary international level of confidence in nationally-implemented tests for exported products;
  • Evaluating market surveillance practices (for regulatory enforcement) in order to establish national systems that restrict trade as little as possible, while still providing adequate consumer protection.

Contact:Geoffrey Hamilton,
Cooperation and Partnership Section
Cooperation and Integration Division
Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10

Tel: + 41 22 917 4221


Trade facilitation

Trade facilitation technical assistance activities aim at developing national competitiveness and participation in global markets by helping countries develop the knowledge and institutions for facilitating national and international transactions through the simplification and harmonization of processes, procedures, and information flows. This is achieved by:

  • Activities to support and build capacity in national trade facilitation organs through advisory services and workshops;
  • Activities to support the national simplification and harmonization of procedures and data, including the establishment and operation of national single windows for export and import clearance;
  • National and regional workshops to develop national/regional strategies for trade facilitation in the context of current WTO obligations and WTO negotiations on trade facilitation;
  • Activities to support electronic alternatives to key paper documents in the international supply chain;
  • Other activities to support paperless trade transactions.

Subprogramme on Economic Cooperation and Integration (promotion of knowledge-based development)

The UNECE Subprogramme on Economic Cooperation and Integration promotes a policy, financial and regulatory environment conducive to economic growth, knowledge-based development and the higher competitiveness of countries and businesses in the UNECE region, with a focus on countries with economies in transition.

Successful projects (UNECE)

The UNECE technical assistance activities in support of trade facilitation contributed to:

  • Strengthening trade facilitation bodies’ institutional capacity: for example, the Ministry of the Economy of Ukraine was assisted in establishing a section for trade and transport facilitation issues; likewise, AzerPRO in Azerbaijan and similar bodies in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia received advice and guidance;
  • Strengthening cooperation among trade facilitation bodies by creating regional networks: for example, within the Russian Federation and among the EurAsEC countries (the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan);
  • Designing technical cooperation projects that attracted financing from IFIs and various other donors: the UNECE also participated in the implementation of these projects, for example, the development of national and regional trade facilitation organizations in South-Eastern Europe, a trade facilitation project in Central Asia, and project plans for pilot single windows for export and import in a number of countries, including the Russian Federation;
  • Strengthening the negotiating capacity of countries with economies in transition in multilateral negotiations on trade facilitation: for example, workshops on WTO accession and trade facilitation in Sarajevo and Belgrade, and workshops for WTO members from the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA);
  • Development of guidelines and policy papers that were implemented by several Member States with economies in transition: for example, guidelines on a strategy for electronic business for the Western Balkan countries within the framework of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe.

In 2012 the UNECE issued a new interactive training and reference tool – the Trade Facilitation Implementation Guide. It is an online tool for identifying, examining and selecting solutions and evaluating options and paths for a given policy objective. It introduces trade facilitation and its benefits, and the main steps that need to be taken to put it in place. It presents a variety of concepts, standards and recommendations that can simplify cross-border trade. It also discusses the instruments available for applying the facilitation measures under discussion at the World Trade Organisation. The Guide is a publicly available web-based interactive toolthat the user can navigate in order to explore different trade areas and instruments—at various levels of information and detail. The guide can be accessed through:

In trade, the UNECE has been involved since 2008 in supporting the AfT Roadmap for SPECA Initiative, which targets members of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA)1: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The Initiative involves harnessing national and regional trade development efforts to achieve a set of common immediate and long-term priorities, namely: (a) developing national supply-side capacity, including productive capacity and institutional frameworks; (b) harnessing cross-border cooperation; and (c) facilitating the beneficial integration of SPECA countries into the multilateral trading system2. The aim is to attain greater regional and global integration, ensure continuous coordination of AfT activities, and create synergies between national and regional trade-development efforts.

In addition, the UNECE is carrying out demand-driven national trade needs assessment studies, using an in-house evaluation methodology that is tailored to capture behind and at-the-border regulatory and procedural barriers to trade in goods. The findings and recommendations emerging from these studies are intended to serve as a basis for: (i) discussions among member States during the UNECE Committee on Trade’s annual sessions; (ii) decisions by national governments concerned and their development partners on follow-up interventions; and, (iii) decisions by member States on the CT’s programme of work3.

The Committee on Economic Cooperation and Integration (CECI) information exchange platform is a polyvalent and innovative tool for the online exchange of professional information among groups of connected experts. It also serves as a communication tool for conferencing among them between physical meetings. It was launched as a pilot project in April 2007 and, later, as a fully functioning environment. It is structured along the five thematic areas in the CECI programme of work, and was designed in-house by the UNECE Secretariat which manages the platform and provides user accounts to individuals with expertise and interest in the CECI areas of work.

In the field of standards:

  • It is a sign of the quality of UNECE agricultural standards that, in many cases, they serve as a basis for European Union regulations, have been adopted as OECD standards, and are used as the basis of work in Codex.
  • The 36 European Union regulations based on UNECE agricultural quality standards cover around 90 per cent of the market volume for fruit and vegetables traded in the 27 EU countries. The texts of these EU regulations are completely harmonized with UNECE standards. In practice, the EU accepts produce coming from non-EU countries that is marked and controlled according to UNECE standards for the purposes of confirming commercial quality.
  • The OECD has adopted 52 UNECE standards and promotes them internationally through its Scheme for the Application of International Standards for Fruit and Vegetables. In addition, a number of Codex standards are based on UNECE standards for fresh fruits and vegetables, and a number of countries outside the European Union, such as China and the Russian Federation, have based some of their national standards on those from UNECE.

Subprogramme on transport

The UNECE objective in this area is to facilitate the international movement of persons and goods by inland transport modes. Transport infrastructure is a key element in promoting trade flows. In this respect, the UNECE Subprogramme on transport relates to trade capacity, particularly its activities in such areas as the development of transport infrastructure networks and border crossing facilitation. A number of international legal instruments in the field of transport developed and adopted by the UNECE cover the following trade-related areas:

  • Transport networks, international road transport and road traffic safety;
  • Vehicle regulations;
  • Transport of dangerous goods;
  • Border crossing facilitation.

To facilitate the operation and implementation of these legal instruments and recommendations on inland transport, the UNECE Secretariat organizes training courses, seminars and workshops, and provides advisory services to its Member States, particularly those with economies in transition, to promote capacity and institution- building and to assist in the identification, formulation and implementation of national and regional transport strategies and programmes. The UNECE also produces best practice guidelines. An example is the UNECE “Handbook of Best Practices at Border Crossings – A Trade and Transport Facilitation Perspective”, published jointly with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Designed for officials in transport, trade and finance ministries, customs agencies; transport, freight and logistics business communities; civil society and researchers, it offers a rich array of reference materials, among others, covering legal instruments, risk management, the use of ICT solutions, and more than 120 best practice examples at border crossings4.


In the area of commercial agricultural quality standards, the main partners are the European Commission (EC), the OECD and FAO (Codex), together with the other regional commissions.

In the area of regulatory cooperation and standardization policies, the main partner is the ISO.

In the area of trade facilitation, the main partners are the World Bank, the WTO, WCO, OECD, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and UNCTAD, notably in the context of the MoU for the Global Facilitation Partnership for Transport and Trade (GFP). In addition, there is extensive cooperation with the other UN Regional Commissions (ECA, ECLAC, ESCAP, ESCWA).

To secure coherence in the development of electronic business related standards and recommendations, the UNECE cooperates with ISO,the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the ITU and selected NGOs in the context of the ISO/IEC/ITU/UNECE MoU on electronic business standards.

On other aspects of trade facilitation, its most important partners are IMO, UNCTAD, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the other UN regional commissions (ECA, ECLAC, ESCAP, ESCWA), the WCO, and the World Bank. These agencies work together through the Global Facilitation Partnership for Transportation and Trade (GFP) and the United Nations Trade Facilitation Network (UNTF), which unite the world’s leading organizations and practitioners in trade and transport facilitation with the aim of creating an open information and exchange platform covering all aspects of trade and transport facilitation. GFP holds biannual meetings, and keeps a regularly updated website: In the area of transport, the main partners are the European Commission, the EBRD, the World Bank, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), UNESCAP, and the ADB.

Work under the CECI programme is undertaken in close cooperation with other relevant organizations and institutions operating in this field, including United Nations agencies, with a view to increasing synergies.

The list of partner organizations includes, but is not limited to: UNDESA, UNCTAD, UNIDO, UNESCAP, WIPO, the ITC, the World Bank, the EC, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC), the OECD, the EBRD, the European Patent Office, the WCO, the European Business Angel Network (EBAN), the European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (EVCA), the IPR Business Partnership, the Alliance for Gray Market and Counterfeit Abatement (AGMA), etc.

For more information:

TCB activities in this guide


  • Improving understanding of the needs of transition economies


  • Regulatory cooperation and standardization policies
  • Promotion of knowledge-based development


  • Agricultural quality standards


  • Trade facilitation and electronic business


  • Subprogramme on transport
  • Transport of dangerous goods
  • Harmonization of road vehicle regulations
  • Transport links projects
  • TIR customs transit and border crossing facilitation

1 SPECA is jointly supported by UNECE and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

2 As defined under the Baku Ministerial Declaration adopted at the end of the Baku AfT Roadmap for SPECA Ministerial Conference, held in Baku, Azerbaijan on 1-2 December 2010. Up-to-date information on the AfT Roadmap for SPECA Initiative is available at:

3 Up-to-date information on the UNECE trade needs assessment studies is available at: